If you want to learn about the disaster that is climate change, then make sure you watch Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate – which is based on her earlier book with the same title.
Having enjoyed watching this film when it first came out earlier this year, I was pleased to be invited to speak alongside representatives from the Labour Party and Friends of the Earth at a recent showing of this powerful and unflinchingly political film here in Leicester.
Klein is adamant that the status quo of so-called representative or parliamentary politics will not provide the source of any meaningful solutions to the ongoing crisis, explaining in her book that “only mass social movements can save us now.” (p.450)
“By posing climate change as a battle between capitalism and the planet, I am not saying anything that we don’t already know. The battle is already under way, but right now capitalism is winning hands down.” (p.22)
It is this simple but obvious statement that has been rejected by mainstream environmental organisations for all too long, to the detriment of the planet and people. As Klein writes:
“A different kind of climate movement would have tried to challenge the extreme ideology that was blocking so much sensible action, joining with other sectors to show how unfettered corporate power posed a grave threat to the habitability of the planet. Instead, large parts of the climate movement wasted precious decades attempting to make the square peg of the climate crisis fit into the round hole of deregulated capitalism, forever touting ways for the problem to the solved by the market itself. (Though it was only years into this project that I discovered the depths of collusion between big polluters and Big Green [e.g. WWF, The Wilderness Society, Sierra Club… etc.)” (p.20)
This is why, when I made my own contribution to the political discussion following the recent screening of Klein’s film, I celebrated Klein’s focus upon the unsustainable nature of capitalism. This was a position supported by the speaker from Leicester Friends of the Earth.
On the other hand, I pointed out my disappointment that Klein had failed to touch upon the central damaging contribution that war plays in fueling the ongoing climate crisis– a shortcoming that received a passing mention in her book where she noted matter of factly: “The U.S. military is by some accounts the largest single consumer of petroleum in the world.” (p.113)
It is also welcome that Klein highlights how “the persistent positing of population control as a solution to climate change is a distraction and moral dead end.” (p.114)
Of course the capitalist battle that is being waged relentlessly by the elite 1% against the rest of us (the 99%) is not just destroying the planet, but is decimating the living standards of the working class across the planet.
Although not writing with a particular eye on British politics, Klein’s general observations nevertheless hold true:
“The past thirty years have been a steady process of getting less and less in the public sphere. This is all defended in the name of austerity, the current justification for these never-ending demands for collective sacrifice.” (p.17)
So when I continued with my own contribution to the film debate, I made it clear, how in recent decades, all the mainstream political parties in Britain — including the Labour Party — had demonstrated their commitment to both capitalism and austerity. Yet before I could even finish my sentence, Labour Cllr Adam Clarke butted by adding “But what about Jeremy Corbyn?” And on this comment he was quite right.
I therefore went on to explain why I was so pleased that Jeremy Corbyn had received an overwhelming mandate for leadership from the grassroots members of the Labour Party as a result of his campaigning on a socialist, anti-austerity platform. But I then added my disappointment that only eight Leicester city Labour councillors had publicly chosen to support Corbyn against the ongoing anti-democratic coup, with Cllr Clarke unfortunately not being counted among those eight.
This statement evidently upset Cllr Clarke, who, taking offence at my reasonable criticism — but seemingly not at the coup against his own leader — told the audience that my comments “had nothing to do with the climate crisis” and that he didn’t appreciate “division being brought into the room like this”.
Cllr Clarke continued by saying how proud he was that the Labour Party was committed to the climate as opposed to the bad old days when, he said, they “used to be bound to coal”.
With Klein’s timely critique of capitalism being raised by other speakers, Cllr Clarke chipped in that “Capitalists are so stupid they don’t realised there is money in this” (by which he meant they couldn’t see that there was financial gain to made from protecting the environment).
Cllr Clarke seemed blissfully aware that thoughtful capitalists had already cashed in on this green issue by funding/hijacking leading liberal environmental groups over the past fifty years (the Big Green groups), and by creating highly profitable pollution control companies with the profits they had derived from creating pollution. Recent examples of such problems were notably highlighted in Klein’s book, where she subjected liberal capitalists like Sir Richard Branson and Bill Gates to a withering and devastating critique in her exhaustively documented chapter “No Messiahs: The Green Billionaires Won’t Save Us”.
I was consequently somewhat surprised when Cllr Clarke recommended that people in the audience who want to attain a better understanding of how the mainstream media acts to manipulate public opinion should watch a documentary called Manufacturing Consent (1992).
Here, I certainly agree that Manufacturing Consent is an important and informative documentary. Although I would suggest that Cllr Clarke would do well to watch it again, as he might then gain a better understanding of why the majority of his own parliamentary party are consciously spreading the lie that Corbyn is unelectable.
Naomi Klein recognises that “communists, socialists, and trade unions”…
“…have won major victories against the dominance-based paradigm – against slavery, for universal suffrage, for equality under the law. And there have been voices in all these movements, moreover, that identified the parallels between the economic model’s abuse of the natural world and its abuse of human beings deemed worthy of being sacrificed, or at least uncounted. Karl Marx, for instance, recognized capitalism’s ‘irreparable rift’ with ‘the natural laws of life itself’…” (p.177)
Klein however is clear that her environmental criticisms of the political status quo apply equally to the right, as they do to the Stalinist left (“those parts of the left that equated socialism with the authoritarian rule of the Soviet Union and its satellites”). That said, Klein is quick to highlight that not every Marxist on the left should be tarred with the Stalinist brush. Hence, although not a Marxist herself, she points out that “there was always a rich tradition, particularly among anarchists, that considered Stalin’s project an abomination of core social justice principles” (p.178). Here is should be noted that the Socialist Party, of which I am a member, is a proud Marxist organisation whose founding, no less, reflects this rich tradition of left wing criticism of Stalin. For the seminal critique of Stalinism read Leon Trotsky’s The History of the Russian Revolution.